How to Train Without Training

July 8, 2011
When training dollars are scarce, there are still good ways to develop your workforce. Try these three strategies.

It's hard to find an organization that actually overtrains. There are many reasons, including fears of training people who then will leave. A much bigger risk is not training them, and they stay. There are many ways to achieve a competitive advantage, but all of them originate in the skills and knowledge of your people.

Another argument against training is the cost. You have limited financial resources and regardless of the return on investment, not every opportunity can be embraced.

When the dollars become scare, training is often the first thing to get cut, partially because of its long-term nature. Long-term thinking wanes in favor of survival.

Just because we don't have training dollars to invest does not mean that we can't develop our people. People development requires momentum; if we aren't moving forward, we're falling behind. There is no excuse big enough to not continue to move forward.

First, overcome the belief that people development equals training. Don't get me wrong; training is great. We see many benefits of training, so much that we built our own training center for course delivery. Training is structured, so you know exactly what people are experiencing. It also is efficient, as you can deliver content to many people at a time. However, it has a cost in the invested time and money to execute the training.

So what can you do without a budget for training? Here are three specific strategies worth trying.

1. Start a book club. This isn't innovative, but it works. We get many emails from companies using "The Hitchhiker's Guide to Lean" in a structured book study group.

Early in my career, I spent a stint on the afternoon shift. There were no resources available on second shift to perform training, so we did our own book club. Every Tuesday at 8 p.m., we would gather to discuss a new chapter in a book. We would rotate responsibility to lead the meeting. We always concluded with the actionable steps we could take from what was learned.

Dialogue about the book's content is important. This is how leaders in the group create meaning from the content. Selecting the right books, and the right group leaders, can have a substantial impact as well. The most important thing is converting lessons into action. This is the only way it becomes more than an idle distraction.

2. Use language deliberately. Our choice of words, particularly if used consistently, can be a slow but steady influence on the learning of others. Our language helps establish context. It frames important issues and helps shape people's perspectives. By itself, it does not create learning. When used in a consistent way in situations for creating meaning, it can influence the thinking of the organization.

For example, we use the phrase "establish high agreement of both what and how." In a word, it just means standardization. But it frames in a distinct way how we think about standardization. It's a process for creating agreement between participants, and it's important that this agreement cover both what will be done, and how it will be done.

3. Coach, with focus. Coaching is something everyone aspires to, but few do it with purpose and structure. Coaching is inefficient. It requires a substantial commitment to be done right. But it's done in the work, not away from the work. You work on real improvements and problems.

Start by distinguishing coaching toward the solution versus coaching the methods. Coaching the solution, which most of us do, is about helping provide the right answers. It feels like coaching, but it's just providing input from our experience. But coaching the method, while it takes more time, builds skill, capability and culture.

Training is a great tool for your toolbox, but not having a budget with which to train is no excuse for not developing your people. Intentions are not good enough; only executed strategies can close these gaps.

Jamie Flinchbaugh is a co-founder and partner of the Lean Learning Center in Novi, Mich., and the co-author of "The Hitchhiker's Guide to Lean: Lessons from the Road."

Other columns by Flinchbaugh:
Lessons From the Road: Sustaining Your 5S Efforts
Lessons From the Road: Surfacing Problems Daily

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